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Horse youth in herds

Field research in Les DannesField research in Les DannesHow does body and personality of young horses raised in all-ages-herds develop? That is what we are studying!

The project started in 2016 and will end in 2019. For further details contact arnolindner(a)t-online.de Part of the project has been placed on the crowdfunding platform Startnext. Through this you can become part of it by contributing financially to its complete realisation! Please click this link if interested: https://www.startnext.com/pferdejugend-in-der-herde/en

The rearing conditions determine the further development of horses in life. We examine in an extraordinary stud how the endurance, gait, sociality and personality of horses develops in their first 6 years of life. The stud is extraordinary because all horses are kept in all-ages-herds on large pastures all year round and under regular contact with humans. Work under the saddle starts when the horses are 5 years old only.

What is the project about?

This project examines the development of 4-year-old horses, reared in the stud Pferdeparadies Les Dannes, in France, until the age of 7 years. There, horses live constantly in all-ages-herds of up to 80 animals in large hilly pastures. All-age-herds means that the horses are separated by gender (males and females/geldings) but not by age! The growing horses can develop their equine social competence and their bodies naturally – without constraints like in conventional rearing systems kept in single box isolation or small groups of horses of the same age and saddled at the age of 3 years, often even at the age of 2 years already. The Les Dannes management system allows the horses to mature their body and to develop their behaviour like in free-ranging horse herds while being regularly in contact with humans.

Equine surgeons, breeders, riding instructors, farriers, behaviourists that have visited Les Dannes are convinced that this rearing system is of great benefit for the horses and humans that will work together later. The young horses are physically and psychologically stable – fit for life!

This rearing system of sport horses is very different from the classical ones. In such systems, horses are reared alone or in small groups with the same age. Familiar social structures cannot develop and natural social interactions are limited or quite inexistent. Training of the young horses starts at the age of three years, often even at two years already. This type of management is convenient for the organisation and management of the work with the horses but contradicts the natural behaviour of horses. This leads to horses with behavioural anomalies and organic deficits that impair their performance and health.  

Which are the goals?

We like to know how well developed are endurance and gait of the young horses reared in the all-ages-herds at the time of their first saddling (5-years-old) and to observe the development of these physiological characteristics during the following year. The relationship of this development with behavioural parameters will be examined too.  

From the results of the study we expect information showing that horses reared in all-ages-herds at least until the age of 6 years are mentally more balanced and easier to handle than horses reared under restricted conditions. This will allow to advice the equine industry about adaptations to improve the wellbeing of horses and their interaction with the humans. Simultaneously we will compare the behaviour, endurance and gait quality of our horses with those of sport horses reared under other systems. We like to objectively determine whether the development of the temperamental and physiological characteristics of the Les Dannes horses is equal or maybe even better than those of horses managed classically.

Why should this project be promoted and supported?

The equine world is changing: using horses for sports and even for pleasure is nowadays often criticized by the public. Because of this, more and more persons turn towards alternative schooling and training methods. However, to be just to the horses used for sports and other activities, more objective information about their social and environmental requirements is needed. Such objective information will allow to reform official regulations and guidelines on the husbandry of horses only.

Who backs the project?

The Verein zur Förderung der Forschung im Pferdesport e.V. www.ffp-ev.de (Association for the promotion of research on sport horses) is a 30 years old association with very engaged members. Besides promoting research, the association organizes conferences and courses with top experts from science and practice to facilitate the transfer of information in both directions!

I, Arno Lindner www.agpferd.com, president of the association, am responsible for the project. Since almost 40 years I am doing research and working in the fields of performance diagnosis and training guidance of horses. Anna Brand, independent equine ambulatory veterinarian, assists me for the endurance and gait analysis tests. Odile Petit and her team at CNRS in Strasbourg, French National Centre for Scientific Research, care for the behaviour tests and the field observation of the horses in the hers. Finally, the owners of the stud, family Fuchs, make sure that everything possible is available to perform the study on site.